Thursday, August 30, 2007

don't analyze me!

My college major advisor was a Ph.D. social worker, a rare thing in the '80s, less so now. She was also a hippie: not an old hippie, nor a reformed hippie, woman was flat out hippie all the way and she was committed.

She was committed to many things: living simply, justice for all, equal rights and opportunities for everyone. She had foster kids, the absolute worst of the teenaged mentally ill and criminal populations; the true throwaway kids for whom there were no other treatment or housing options. She lived her beliefs, her values. She took six months a year off from buying anything, lived in the country, grew her own food.

She also analyzed handwriting. After I graduated, Lynn moved on to do training for the State of Oklahoma. Folks would gather in some hotel in a distant corner of the state, all of the state's professional treatment teams, dressed for success and discomfort. Always a bit tardy, Lynn would sweep into the room, an explosion of color in her layered batik and tie-dyed garments. She arrived with confidence and absolute self possession, filling the room with her magnetic presence and the richly mixed aromas of patchouli and human, the human emanating from a body showered weekly, because to do otherwise was a waste of water and she lived her values every single day.

She had us at social work academy for a week and as was her wont, she delved into alternative methods of arriving at the truth about the people we would be working with in our frontline child welfare efforts. From the room full of 40 shiny new social workers, Lynn chose me and five others to write a paragraph on the chalkboard. Not knowing what would come next, I quickly completed the assigned paragraph in my less-than-elegant hand and returned to my seat.

The topic of the hour was handwriting analysis and she began to analyze the various contributors' paragraphs, going around the room, visiting the three boards, eliciting nods of agreement from the writers. Five nodders, expressing awe in the accuracy of her descriptions of their personalities, their attitudes toward life, their character. Character.

She did not analyze my handwriting, and I have wondered ever since what she saw there, in my scratching on the board. What caused her to look at my paragraph for a few moments, then turn to the class and resume teaching, this time on the subject of neurolinguistic programming.

That I've lived a wild life is no secret. I don't pretend to be anything other than a recovering alcoholic, addict, thief, cheat. As my advisor throughout college, Lynn was well aware of my past. On the inside now, as a result of AA and the steps and a persistent effort to live a spiritual life, I feel clean and wholesome and healthy. I am profane, it's true, and I can get pretty wrought up over political matters, but those were the years of George H.W. Bush. I was not a fan, but the father's failings are laughable compared to those of the son.

So what did she see? What was it in my handwriting that made her turn away? I watched her thereafter to see if her behavior with me changed. Did she seem a little more distant? Was eye contact reduced? My paranoia influenced my interpretation of her behavior and I was convinced that, in my scratchings on the board, Lynn saw something dreadful, something that even I, living in my own skin, could not see.

In some tiny dark corner of my soul, I have always feared that there is something wrong with my character, that deep down, I am not a good person, not the decent, kind, compassionate, loving woman I want to be. In the frightening world of psychiatric diagnosis, I have, at various times in my drinking/drug using years, met the criteria for diagnosis as an antisocial personality. That's the new term for what used to be called a sociopath.

The DSM-IV, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders, says this about antisocials:

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the local culture. There is a marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Individuals with this disorder are sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths.

1. Since the age of fifteen there has been a disregard for and violation of the right's of others, those right's considered normal by the local culture, as indicated by at least three of the following:
A. Repeated acts that could lead to arrest.
B. Conning for pleasure or profit, repeated lying, or the use of aliases.
C. Failure to plan ahead or being impulsive.
D. Repeated assaults on others.
E. Reckless when it comes to their or others safety.
F. Poor work behavior or failure to honor financial obligations.
G. Rationalizing the pain they inflict on others.
2. At least eighteen years in age.
3. Evidence of a Conduct Disorder, with its onset before the age of fifteen.
4. Symptoms not due to another mental disorder.

The key word there is three. If the individual meets three of the criteria, A-F, along with 2-4, well, there you are: antisocial personality. The general thinking on antisocials is that they cannot be cured; that it's a personality disorder, not a mental illness.

The only out I see for my not having a character disorder is number 4, "symptoms not due to another mental disorder." My hope is that alcoholism counts. And then I wonder why I'm even questioning this with 24 years of sobriety, with a good 20+ years of living well, with more than 15 years of living happy. Is that even possible for someone with a true character disorder? And if it's not, what the hell did she see in my handwriting that caused her to turn away?

I sent a book to a friend the other day and included a note in the package. As I quickly scribbled on a series of stickies, I had an odd sense of being exposed. What if this person I admire is also a handwriting analysis expert? I don't think so, but who knows these days? I felt the irresistible urge to close my note by saying "don't analyze my handwriting!" I was joking ~ sort of ~ when I wrote it, thinking of Lynn's reaction to my scratchings on the board. The experience with Lynn left me feeling oddly exposed and vulnerable. It's a strange sensation to think that someone else knows more about me than I do and I don't like it.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever wondered whether there's some unsavory thing within you that's in complete opposition to who you are or, at least, who you think you are? Have you always lived a wholesome, productive life, always in harmony with your personal values?

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Blogger evilganome said...

Like most people of our generation, I have had some pretty serious ups and downs. All in all though, I have managed to get through without becoming any bigger a jerk than I had too.

However, I have to say that I don't give much credence to handwriting analysis. It's a bit like believing in phrenology, or social darwinism or the power of pyramids. Come on! We all have our dark sides, and for those of us who took control of our lives, we have all had our own personal roads to Damascus. If you were truly a sociopath, it is highly unlikely that you would have turned yourself around, and sociopaths that do curb their behavior never actually become able to view other people as fully fledged human beings, they just learn appropriate social behavior and train themselves to mimic it.

I'm sure your prof was a very good teacher, but I have to question anyone bringing that kind of hogwash into a classroom unless it is to debunk it.

August 30, 2007 9:53 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

i love a man who uses the word "debunk" . . . you're a voice of wisdom, tony. does your dark side still have some appeal? mine does . . .

August 30, 2007 10:03 AM  
Anonymous tater said...

I was a psych major in college, and was warned repeatedly about the ills of self diagnosis. We tend to read into things too much, and start attributing good or bad traits to ourselves that aren't truly warranted. Because psychology is such a grey "science", we should learn to take it all with a grain of salt. We all share some of the attributes of every mental neurosis, and often delude ourselves by aggrandizing these things into full blown diseases. You are fine, and one of the most compassionate people I have ever had the pleasure to know. The very fact that you chose social work, and were able to face the horrors of that job, and strive to make a difference, says it all. I could never judge you to be anything less than amazing, gifted, loving, concerned with justice, equality, and the well being of others. Your handwriting can not reflect your diversity of spirit, your capacity to love, or the strides you have made in life. Analysis is a simple tool akin to stereotyping, and falls well short of the mark. You, my friend, have absolutely no reason to be concerned!

August 30, 2007 10:12 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

delude ourselves by aggrandizing these things into full blown diseases . . . haha!!! Tater, yes, that alcoholic grandiosity coupled with an obsessive mind can be . . . um . . . interesting ;-) oh, and thanks. it was your note that prompted all this.

August 30, 2007 10:20 AM  
Blogger Red7Eric said...

Okay, first of all, you are NOT a sociopath!! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no ...

Secondly, I think that there might be something to handwriting analysis; after all, we generally choose, consciously or unconsciously, how we dot our i's and cross our t's, and it's possible that it reveals something about us. POSSIBLE, but perhaps not even likely; I'm not an expert in these matters.

But if this woman did see anything "dangerous" in your handwriting, then perhaps this should be "debunked." I find it far more likely that she saw things about your past that she chose, for your sake, not to share with the entire group. Of course, it's entirely possible (if handwriting analysis really is so much snake oil) that she only saw these things because she knew them already.

Would that you could go back and ask her, privately, why she discussed your five colleagues and studiously avoided discussing you. It could have saved a lot of angst.

Wow, I really am blathering on here ... but one more thing: we are all the heroes of our own story. We all like to see ourselves in the best possible light. However, we are also, all of us, human beings, with virtues and vices, strengths and flaws. Only the most self-aware among us can bear to see our flaws, much less ruminate on them. So yes ... the reality of Lynette is probably more flawed than the picture of Lynette that you like to see in your head. But that's true for EVERYBODY, only most people never take their eyes off of the perfect picture long enough to even go there. That you do -- another sign of strength, and more evidence that you are not, not, not, not, not an antisocial.

Okay, I'm done now.

August 30, 2007 10:25 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

eric :-) not a whole lot of angst after the first little bit of wondering if she saw some crazy thing in me i was hiding even from myself. it just crops up every now and then, usually when i'm exposing myself through handwritten notes.

i think part of it is because i don't often hear people, outside of aa, admitting to having character flaws, to having committed past bad acts. . . . more to think about.

and i had something really funny to say, but it left :-)

August 30, 2007 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Doralong said...

"Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever wondered whether there's some unsavory thing within you that's in complete opposition to who you are or, at least, who you think you are?"

You bet sister- more often than I care to admit.. I frequently wonder what vestiges of my unsavory youth are still lurking in my character, not fully weeded out. And what do observant people actually perceive when they look close enough? I often think I'd actually rather not know in truth.

As for you- you're a wonderful human, messy handwriting doth not a sociopath make.

August 30, 2007 1:38 PM  
Blogger Helen the Felon said...

First and foremost, I hate hippies. Sure, they do some nice things, yada yada...but there's always that underlying level of smugness about the nice things they do that causes them to, say...I dunno...pass judgment on someone based on a fucking handwriting sample. Fuck that. Fuck it soundly in the ear.

Secondly, any shrink worth her mettle will tell you that addiction, in it's so-called active phase, most definitely counts as another mental disorder. When your brain has been taken hostage by foreign substances, it does things, often terrible, that are divergent from your underlying personality. If you were ever rotten, it was the booze and drugs talking. Period.

Third, every single person on this planet has at some point questioned whether or not he or she is a good person who deserves to be loved. The only people who haven't are, ironically, those fucking hippies. And you know how I feel about them.

Fourth, you are a profoundly compassionate, generous, powerful, thoughtful, amazing woman, and that is that. If you're evil, there is no hope for the rest of us. And there is hope for the rest of us. So there.

August 30, 2007 3:08 PM  
Blogger farmboyz said...

I'd be really really surprised if at the end of time it was revealed to all that you were not a good person. Meanwhile, I stand among those who admire you (and wish you had indeed rung the doorbell during last week's megasleepover.) We should talk. I think I might need your help with something.

August 30, 2007 6:26 PM  
Blogger evilganome said...

See! I told you girlfriend. And yes I do find my darker impulses still tempting, but... that is what growing up and evolving is about. And what Helen said about hippies... times 10.

Sorry, if you want to think of yourself as a bad person, you're fooling no one but yourself. Your kindness and generosity are a dead give away that you are a terrific human being. Just give up and admit your a good person. We'll still respect you.

August 30, 2007 7:10 PM  
Anonymous tater said...

Seems that everybody agrees that you are quite special. Time to let those negative thoughts go...

August 30, 2007 7:51 PM  
Blogger Red7Eric said...

"Every single person on this planet has at some point questioned whether or not he or she is a good person who deserves to be loved. The only people who haven't are, ironically, those fucking hippies. And you know how I feel about them."

Ha! Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!! I loves me some Helen.

August 30, 2007 8:24 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

DL . . . where does that shit come from, sister?

helen, that was really sweet. hate hippies, eh? never thought of the smugness factor but . . . yup, i'm thinking you nailed it.

farmboyz, if you have an in with those receiving at the end-of-time line, put in a word for me. and holler at me anytime. i am at your service, though deprived of morning (i know it was nude) yoga and all of that luscious food y'all were cooking as i sniffed through the crack in the door. sigh.

tony, tater, you are sweet hearts. boston is sounding really really tempting. the bad part of me (the 24%, according to the test eric sent via email) wants to sort of spring it on mike.

eric, me too. funny, funny woman.

August 30, 2007 8:46 PM  
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February 20, 2008 4:28 PM  
Blogger selva said...

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February 20, 2008 4:29 PM  

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